Pablo Escobar was the most notorious and violent drug lord of the Medellín Cartel. Escobar was killed by the Search Bloc, a group of Colombian police devoted to capturing Escobar, on a Colombian rooftop in 1993; by this time, the cartel had already been severely damaged. However, there would be no rest. Waiting to emerge on the world scene was the Cali Cartel, which in past years had been less visible, but no less formidable than its Medellín counterpart.
For more than a decade, Panamanian Manuel Noriega was a highly paid CIA asset and collaborator, despite knowledge by U.S. drug authorities as early as 1971 that the general was heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. Noriega facilitated "guns-for-drugs" flights for the contras, providing protection and pilots, as well as safe havens for drug cartel officials, and discreet banking facilities.
After the assassination of Pablo Escobar in 1993, the world of the drug lord had taken a major turn in its departing from massive cartels such as Juan David Ochoa's Medellín cartel. More recently, drug lords are breaking up the large cartels of the past into much smaller organizations of the future. In doing so, they not only decrease the number of people involved but also put a much smaller target on themselves -- most likely in an attempt to avoid the fate bestowed upon previous drug lords such as Pablo Escobar. With newer technology, drug lords are able to manage their operations more effectively from behind the scenes; keeping themselves out of the spotlight and off of the FBI’s most wanted lists. These smaller cartels are slowly proving to be not only more profitable for those involved but also much safer.
Up until the demise of Pablo Escobar, in many instances drug lords essentially ran the governments of the locations they controlled (through bribery and assassinations), and everything associated with them. However, as the years press forward, this way of controlling their operations is becoming less prevalent. One of the most notorious examples of the treatment given to drug lords is in the incarceration of Escobar. Although Escobar was, after turning himself in, jailed for his participation in drug trafficking in Colombia, the "jail" in which he was captive was a million-dollar palace built with his own funds. Another famous Crime lord that enjoyed lightened jail life was Al Capone. Capone continued to run his business from his jail cell, a cell that contained tables, chairs, a bed, flowers and paintings. To drug lords of the past jail was simply a way to avoid further persecution. In recent times, this has also changed -- no longer are drug lords in control of local and regional governments. This causes them to give up some of their control over their surroundings and also their ability to continue to run their businesses from behind bars.
Another trend that has been emerging in the last decade is the willingness of authorities to cooperate with countries, most notably the United States, in an effort to apprehend and punish the drug lords. Recently (especially in the last five years), countries have been more and more willing to extradite their drug lords to face charges in other countries, an act that not only benefits them directly but also gives them favor with foreign governments. "In 2006 Mexico extradited 63 drug dealers to the US," a record number for them. The only issue here is the worst criminals are often never extradited as Mexico and other countries refuse to send people who would be facing the death penalty at their destination, as it is not legal in those countries.
Drug lords are a popular choice for the lead villain in many action movies and television shows, having been featured for such purposes in the Lethal Weapon series and in TV series such as Miami Vice, Homicide: Life on the Street, and The Shield. A drug lord was prominent in the 1989 miniseries Traffik. Perhaps the most famous fictitious movie drug lords were Tony Montana, who was played by Al Pacino, and Alejandro Sosa, who was played by Paul Shenar, both in the movie Scarface.
Other notable fictional drug lords include most notably the unspecified Latin American Franz Sanchez, who was played by Robert Davi in the James Bond movie Licence to Kill, and the Colombian Orlando Calderone, played by Miguel Pinero who was the foil in the Miami Vice TV series.